“Say to the Prisoners, Go Forth”
“That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.—Isa. 49:9.
1, 2. What record has Jehovah for opening prisons and letting the inmates loose?
JEHOVAH cannot be beat for opening prison doors and letting prisoners loose. He has a record of doing this in a literal way. He sent prophetic dreams to Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, and these worked for him to release Joseph from prison to interpret the dreams and become chief minister of Pharaoh. He used the mighty armies of Babylon as his executioners and let them batter their way into Jerusalem and release his prophet Jeremiah from prison. Much later the religious rulers of Jerusalem again committed a false arrest, this time on the apostles of Jesus Christ. But Jehovah’s angel opened the prison doors that night, brought them forth without their keepers’ realizing it, and told them to go back to preach about Jesus Christ in the temple. Afterward when Peter alone was imprisoned and sentenced to death and lay sleeping bound with chains between two soldiers and with guards before the cell door, Jehovah’s angel again struck off the chains and led Peter out to freedom and to further service of his God.
2 Even an earthquake was not too much for Jehovah to stir up under the prison at Philippi in Macedonia to loose the hands and feet of the apostle Paul and Silas from chains and stocks and to knock open the cell door and induce the jailer to lead them out with the greatest respect and meekly listen to their message. It is truly written, “Jehovah looseth the prisoners.”—Ps. 146:7, AS; Jer. 40:1-4; Gen. 41:1-46; Acts 5:17-21; 12:1-11; 16:19-34.
3. Since when in our time is he doing a greater releasing work, and from what?
3 But here we are at the threshold of A.D. 1952. This is too modern a day for Jehovah God to be doing anything like loosing people from prison, is it not? Do not think so for a moment. The fact is, he is doing his great work of releasing now, in this modern period from A.D. 1919. This work is marked by the releasing of many from literal prisons, concentration camps and other places of detention. But it is specially remarkable for releasing victims from a vaster and more terrible prison, a spiritual prison condition in a modern Babylon. Nothing can resist, and nothing is resisting his power to set those who are bound free even while the prison still stands. When he has delivered all those who long to get free and who look to him for it, he will smash the entire prison system at the battle of Armageddon and introduce a free world for everyone that lives. Note how this is coming about.
4. How do we identify Jehovah’s great Servant of liberation?
4 God Almighty has a great Liberator or Servant whom he now uses in this work of granting sweet release to liberty lovers who are bound. Who is he? Hear the voice that comes sounding down the corridors of nineteen centuries from a Jewish synagogue at Nazareth in Galilee, Palestine. The voice is reading the words of the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter sixty-one61, verses one and two, and you hear these words: “Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor, he sent me forth to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release, to preach Jehovah’s acceptable year.” (Luke 4:18, 19, NW) Ah, you recognize the voice of Jesus of Nazareth speaking and there applying to himself those prophetic words designating Jehovah’s Servant of liberation. Yes, he is the great Servant whom Almighty God has raised up now to serve as Liberator, now when the whole earth is threatened with a new bondage, that of blasphemous international communism. The self-conceited religious pontiff who claims to be the visible “vicar of Christ” falls far short of being a spiritual bulwark against the onrush of Christless Communism. A false Christ could never be depended upon to be a true bulwark against political and social lies. But the true Christ himself, Jesus the Son of God, stands firmer than the rock of Gibraltar, not only repelling the invasion of Communism and other political isms into the lives of lovers of truth and righteousness, but also releasing many who are in bondage under these systems.
5. To what does it lead to look to men as liberators, and whose appointment does this course ignore?
5 Millions of people inside and outside of Christendom have been fooled in the past. And it is now a foolish thing to listen to some man or group of men when they lift themselves to prominence and then, to draw followers after themselves, proclaim that they will bring about the people’s liberation. The granting of full liberty to mankind rests with the Almighty God Jehovah. He has made his own appointment of someone reliable to free the prisoners of this oppressive system of things. To this day he sticks to that appointment. So it is not worth the while and it only leads to heartbreaks to look to anybody else than the One the Most High God has appointed. He makes known the One he has appointed and he speaks to him with these words: “Thus saith Jehovah, In an acceptable time have I answered thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to raise up the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages; saying to them that are bound, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves.”—Isa. 49:8, 9, AS.
6, 7. To whom do those words apply in type and in antitype?
6 Oh, you say, those words apply to King Cyrus of Persia. In 539 B.C. he and his uncle Darius overthrew mighty Babylon which had destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and had desolated the land of the Jews by carrying nearly all the survivors off into Babylon as exiles. But in the first year of his reign Cyrus released these Jewish prisoners. He let them go back to the desolate Jewish heritages in Palestine and rebuild the ruined land.
7 All that is true. Isaiah, chapter forty-five45, did foretell Cyrus and his liberal deeds toward Jehovah’s people, but it sets him forth as a type or prophetic figure of Jesus Christ, the Greater Cyrus. It is Jesus Christ who brings about the complete fulfillment of Jehovah’s prophecy. So he is the great Servant of liberation now.
8. (a) What powerful instrument of liberation did Jesus have? (b) How did God help him and give him as a “covenant of the people”?
8 When Jesus was on earth he had a powerful instrument, the truth. At once we think of his words: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32, NW) All the while he was on earth as a man he was in constant danger from the great Serpent Satan the Devil, and all his wicked seed demon and human. He prayed to his heavenly Father and he was answered and helped that he might finish his work for mankind’s salvation. Jehovah God preserved him till his work was finished. Then he let him show his loyalty and integrity even to disgraceful death on a torture stake at Calvary. But Almighty God preserved him by raising him up from the dead to immortal life in heaven as the exalted spirit Son of God. In this way Jesus Christ could carry on with his liberation work and be on hand for it in this day. God has given him for a “covenant of the people”. How a “covenant”? A covenant is a solemn engagement to do something. God has solemnly engaged or bound himself to loose true liberty lovers from prison and bondage, and he has given his Son Jesus Christ as a covenant or pledge that he will do this. He has provided and appointed Jesus to be the One to set people free. As certainly as there is a resurrected and glorified Jesus at the Father’s right hand in heaven, just that certainly there will be a loosing of righthearted people from slavery to the tyrannical world system of modern Babylon. So the One to look to is this glorious Servant whom God has given for a “covenant of the people”. All human leaders will prove frauds.
9. How does Paul apply Isaiah 49:8 and show we may be associated with the true Liberator in his work?
9 You love liberty for yourself, and you would like to see others enjoy it too. Would you not like to be associated with the true Liberator in his work? You may. We know from these Scriptural facts that you can. Above (¶ 5) we quoted the words of Isaiah 49:8. The apostle Paul calls attention to these words and applies them in connection with the followers of Jesus Christ. We reproduce Paul’s particular way of saying it, and also his words surrounding it, as follows: “We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us. As substitutes for Christ we beg: ‘Become reconciled to God.’ The one who did not know sin he made to be sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness by means of him. Working together with him, we also entreat you not to accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose. For he says [and here comes Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 49:8, LXX]: ‘In an acceptable season I heard you, and in the day for salvation I came to your help.’ Look! Now is the especially acceptable season. Look! Now is the day for salvation. In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with; but in every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers.”—2 Cor. 5:20 to 6:4, NW.
10. How was Paul trying to keep his ministry blameless, and what appeal does he make to us about God’s undeserved kindness?
10 Here Paul tells us he had a ministry of service entrusted to him, and that in doing it he was working together with God and his great Servant Jesus Christ. Since Christ was not there personally in the flesh, Paul was acting as an ambassador substituting for Christ and saying for him, “Become reconciled to God [so as to gain salvation in this acceptable season and day for it].” That his ministry or service might be blameless in this respect, Paul was giving his hearers no cause for stumbling but was in every way recommending himself to them as God’s minister or servant. So he appeals to those to whom he writes that they should not receive the undeserved kindness of God through Christ and miss its purpose. And here is where all of us who accept his undeserved kindness come in. We must not miss the purpose for which it was given to us.
COMMISSION OF WORK
11. How can we avoid missing the purpose of God’s undeserved kindness given to us?
11 How can we miss the purpose of this undeserved kindness? By our failing to do the work for which it was given us to make us fit. Having tasted of his undeserved kindness and been reconciled to God or put on friendly terms with him, we must from now on be a coworker with him. We must colabor with his great Servant Jesus Christ. He has given a commission of work to his great Servant. What part of that commission of work we can help in doing, we are obliged to do it. So to that extent the commission to the Servant also applies to us, and we become his fellow servants. We become members of the servant class. This is specially true of those Christians who are anointed with God’s spirit as Jesus was and who are baptized into his spiritual body or congregation and who are made joint heirs with him of the heavenly kingdom. It is their obligation according to the divine commission to join in ‘saying to the prisoners, Go forth, and to them that sit in darkness, Show yourselves’. If we faithfully carry out this commission, then we are not receiving God’s undeserved kindness in vain.
12, 13. Whom does the Servant tell to listen to him, and how was it made possible for them to hear and listen to Jesus’ voice?
12 Well, then, what is our working equipment? Listen to the great Servant, the Head of the servant class, suggest to us what it is, in the opening words of chapter forty-nine49 of Isaiah which we are considering: “Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye peoples, from far: Jehovah hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name: and he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me: and he hath made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he kept me close: and he said unto me, Thou art my servant; Israel, in whom I will be glorified. But I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and vanity; yet surely the justice due to me is with Jehovah, and my recompense with my God.”—Isa. 49:1-4, AS.
13 The Servant indicates that the message which he has about deliverance is to be heard by the isles, coastlands or distant shores and by peoples far off. It is to be a world-wide message of liberation through him, Jehovah’s great Servant. But when Jesus was on earth, he did not go to any isles—the land of Palestine has no islands—and he did not go to distant shores or coastlands or to peoples far away. He confined himself to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” there in the little land of Palestine. And while he was in the flesh with his disciples he instructed them to do the same in their preaching of God’s kingdom. (Matt. 10:5, 6) So if Jesus did not go to the isles and far-off peoples, how were they to listen to him? By his sending his anointed fellow servants to them. If they were to hear and listen, how could they do so unless his servants went and preached to them and let them hear the voice or message of Jehovah’s great Servant? (Rom. 10:14, 15) Hence we can see how the servant class under Christ Jesus is necessary to fulfill this prophecy of freedom to the prisoners.
14. How in a literal way was Jehovah’s great Servant called and named from his mother’s womb?
14 The great Servant says Jehovah called him from his mother’s womb and named him from the bowels of his mother. This was true in a double sense. When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Son of God, he told her: “You are to call his name Jesus.” When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to explain Mary’s pregnant condition, he said to him: “She will give birth to a son, and you must call his name ‘Jesus’.” Why? “For he will save his people from their sins.” When the angel announced the child’s birth to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem, he said to them: “There was born to you today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in David’s city.” (Luke 1:31; Matt. 1:21; Luke 2:10, 11, NW) But all that was at the time he was conceived in the womb of an earthly mother and was born from her.
15. How was this so of him in a spiritual way?
15 Thirty years later he was baptized in Jordan’s waters to give symbolic testimony to the dedication of himself to do God’s will. Then he was brought forth from the womb of God’s woman, his heavenly organization, for then the heavenly Father, Jehovah God, begot Jesus by his holy spirit to be his spiritual Son once again. Then as the spirit descended in the outward manifestation of a dove and anointed Jesus to be the Christ, God’s voice was heard from heaven saying: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” (Matt. 3:13-17, NW) Thus from the womb of his heavenly mother, God’s woman or organization, Jesus was called to be the Christ or Anointed One and he was named to be Jehovah’s Savior for mankind.
16. How has Jehovah made the Servant’s mouth like a sharp sword?
16 The Servant, and in fact the entire anointed servant class, is produced from God’s woman for a service against God’s enemies. This is why God made the Servant’s mouth like a sharp sword and made him like a polished shaft or arrow. One of the servant class, the apostle Paul, tells us that we should accept the “sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word”, and that “the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of the soul and spirit”. (Eph. 6:17 and Heb. 4:12, NW) The tongue of the wicked is like a sword of slander, blasphemy and reproach; but the tongue of the Servant and his followers takes up God’s Word and so makes use of the “sword of the spirit”. It declares the judgment of the great Judge Jehovah against his enemies and exposes the hearts of religious hypocrites. It puts to death false doctrine and human traditions which would make God’s Word invalid. This sword of truth is an important part of the full suit of armor which God supplies to his servant class, and the foes of God’s people cannot withstand it. As his servants use it he hides them in the shadow of his hand. So although they are out in the open fighting they are still under his protection.
17. How has Jehovah made him like a polished shaft hid in a quiver?
17 From far off Jehovah sends the servant class, like a polished shaft or arrow shot from a bowstring. The Son of God from heaven was in fact the “Word of God”, his great Spokesman, so that in him Jehovah’s Word went forth. God kept him close or stored him away like an arrow in a quiver, reserving him for use at the due time. In the same way he reserved all the servant class for use at the proper time, at which time he propels them by his spirit against the foes of truth, righteousness and God’s kingdom. By the activities of the servant class God’s Word is today spread far and wide and his judgments are declared abroad.—Ps. 127:4, 5.
18. How and when could the servant say he has labored in vain?
18 But how is it that such an honored servant should say: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and vanity”? Well, the immediate disciples of the great Servant might have said that at the time he died on the torture stake and they were all scattered from him. Even on his resurrection day two of them were heard to remark: “We were hoping that this man was the one destined to deliver Israel.” (Luke 24:17-21, NW) They thought Jehovah’s Servant had labored in vain and spent his strength all for nothing. Similar grounds for discouragement were laid for the servant class in 1918, at the climax of World War I. Then the visible organization of the servant class of Jehovah was under vicious assault by political, religious and military enemies; their Bible literature was banned; their freedom of action was curtailed in many ways; and many of them were imprisoned, including vital official members of their legal Society. There was division within their ranks due to rebellious and traitorous ones; and great fear and uncertainty distressed them and made them subject to the power of the enemy. Their organization was broken up, just as when the Babylonian hordes destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 607 B.C. Their fields of activity were desolated like the realm of the kingdom of Judah when King Zedekiah and those of his subjects who survived were carried off exiles to Babylon. Then the appearance of things was as if the servant class had worked and expended their strength in Jehovah’s service for nothing.
REMNANT LOOSED FIRST
19. At this point whose services now were needed, as shown by Isaiah 49:5, 6?
19 Here now was where the need of the great Servant of Jehovah came in, to see to it that his servant class on earth, his spiritual Israelites, got justice and were rewarded. The great Servant now tells us that Jehovah formed him from the womb of his “woman”, his heavenly organization, for this honorable purpose: “And now saith Jehovah that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, and that Israel be gathered unto him (for I am honorable in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God is become my strength); yea, he saith, It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel.”—Isa. 49:5, 6, AS.
20. So how did the great Servant “raise up the tribes of Jacob” and “restore the preserved of Israel”?
20 On the day of his resurrection Jesus began reviving his disciples dismayed and discouraged. On the day of Pentecost he poured out God’s spirit upon them and began building them up as a spiritual organization. He made their spiritual state to flourish and blossom as the rose. They had once been captives of Babylon’s religious counterpart, namely, apostate Jewish religion, but now they were made free and were restored to Jehovah’s theocratic organization for worship and service. To this remnant of Jewish believers who were prisoners of mystic Babylon, Jehovah’s great Servant said, “Go forth.” They had been sitting in religious darkness, and he said to them: “Show yourselves”; come out into the light. This was a remnant of natural descendants of the faithful patriarch Jacob. So it was made up of members of all the tribes of Israel, Jacob’s surname. Hence the glorified Jesus Christ in heaven acted as Jehovah’s servant and served in a literal way “to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel”.
21, 22. How has this Servant done similarly to another remnant since 1918?
21 Since A.D. 1918 there has turned up a faithful remnant of spiritual Israelites, for, as the Jewish Christian apostle Paul says, “he is not a Jew that is one on the outside, nor is circumcision that which is on the outside upon the flesh. But he is a Jew that is one on the inside, and his circumcision is that of the heart by spirit, and not by a written code.”—Rom. 2:28, 29, NW.
22 Like the faithful Jewish remnant of nineteen centuries previous, this modern remnant of spiritual Israelites had been bound and made prisoners by mystic Babylon during World War I. They were sitting in darkness of mental gloom, fear and uncertainty as to God’s purpose and his will for them. Only Jehovah by his great Servant, the King Jesus Christ, could help them, just as Jehovah’s servant of ancient times, King Cyrus of Persia, had helped the imprisoned Israelites in Babylon. Jehovah had formed his great Servant for this very work of liberation. He had given him as a covenant or pledge of the deliverance of His people, and now he used his Servant in this behalf, from 1919 onward. In that year he began leading the remnant of spiritual Israelites out into freedom.
23. How were Jehovah’s words true of Christ Jesus: “Thou art my servant; Israel, in whom I will be glorified”?
23 Most truly Jehovah had said to Christ Jesus: “Thou art my servant; Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” (Isa. 49:3, AS) In olden time Jehovah had chosen Jacob instead of his older twin brother Esau to inherit the Abrahamic promise: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed”; and he had changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “ruling with God”. And now Jehovah’s great Servant was bringing blessing to the remnant of spiritual Israel by releasing them from Babylon’s power and freeing them to be witnesses of Jehovah in all the earth. By this action of his Servant Jehovah was glorified and the honor of his name was upheld. The remnant’s freedom served everywhere for his glory, because for their faithfulness they became part of the servant class.
24. How did Jehovah answer Zion’s plaint of being forsaken, forgotten?
24 With this restoration of her spiritual children taking place after the desolations experienced during World War I, God’s woman Zion had no reason to speak any more as Isaiah’s prophecy had foretold: “But Zion said, Jehovah hath forsaken me, and the Lord hath forgotten me.” To which Jehovah replies: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, so as not to have pity upon the son of her womb? Even should these forget, yet I will not forget you. See! I have carved you upon the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. Already your builders* make haste, while those who destroyed you and laid you waste go forth from you. Lift up your eyes round about, and see! All of them gather, they come to you.” (Isa. 49:14, AS; Isa 49:15-18, AT; Mo) From 1919 on, the remnant of spiritual sons of God’s organization Zion took courage and made haste to rebuild the desolated visible organization and to revive the free and fearless worship of Jehovah and to renew the proclamation of his kingdom by Christ Jesus. So they returned to Zion with joy, and Jehovah proved to Zion that he had not forgotten her so as to let her go on lying desolate and torn down. His hands of power, on which her beloved name was printed or carved, became active for rebuilding her and raising up her walls of protection. His great Servant Christ Jesus commanded her spiritual children in Babylon’s prison system, “Go forth,” and then led them back to Zion. The darkness of divine disapproval has fled from them, and now they rejoice in the light of his favor and approval.
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (DSIa) in Hebrew, of the second century B.C., reads “builders” instead of “sons”; and so do the Petropolitanus Hebrew Manuscript of A.D. 916 and the Jewish Targum in Chaldee and the Latin Vulgate Version. Besides this, the Greek Septuagint Version expresses the thought of builders here.